Legislative Updates

April 21, 2017


The number of committee meetings and bills heard on the floor is rising at an exponential rate, as the number of days left in session is steadily dropping. The countdown clock to Sine Dai (end of session) reads 38 days and the race to the finish is on. This week felt like a three ring circus that would make Barnum & Bailey proud. The State Board of Education has been meeting all week. The most controversial issue on its agenda relates to streamlining the science TEKS. There was much public testimony on how the state addresses the teaching of biology and specifically its approach to teaching evolution. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (I mean Capitol) both House Public Ed and Senate Ed committees had long meetings on Tuesday and Senate Ed met again on Thursday. The House committee heard bills on a wide variety of topics and Senate Ed heard a dozen bills related to school finance. One noteworthy mention is that Senator Seliger’s SB 463, which would make Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) a permanent option by eliminating the September 2017 sunset provision, passed out of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday by a vote of 10-0. It has been placed on the fast track “local and consent calendar” and then will make its way over to the House to be heard in committee.

On Wednesday, after a marathon debate about a ridesharing (aka Uber) bill which shows the state can flex its proverbial muscle and stamp out local control, Representative Huberty’s school finance bill (HB 21) came up just before 4 pm. Over 40 amendments had been pre-filed dealing with everything from pre-K, to ASATR, to test reduction. About 4 hours later, HB 21 passed to third reading with 134 members voting “Yea” and 16 voting “Nay.” HB 21 passed third reading Thursday and will be sent over to the Senate to be scheduled for a committee hearing. This week’s update will predominantly focus on school finance and where things stand in both chambers.

1. School Finance  House (HB 21) 
Chairman Huberty introduced the bill and said that it is the first time in 30 years that the legislature will have voluntarily made comprehensive changes to the school finance system without a court order to do so. He explained that while the Texas Supreme Court ruled last summer that the system is minimally lawful, it is awful. He has stated repeatedly that HB 21 will not fix all of the problems, but that it is the first step in a multi-session solution. During the four-hour debate, Chairman Huberty politely rejected the majority of proposed amendments, but a handful were supported and added to the bill. Some areas of debate included charter funding, transportation, ASATR, the small school penalty, and test reduction. 

Drew Darby succeeded in attaching an amendment to gradually eliminate the small school penalty. Representative Huberty said that he would not oppose the amendment, but would rather leave the bill clean. He left adoption of the amendment to the will of the body. Darby’s amendment passed with a vote of 85-57. This amendment had started the day with only Representatives Darby and VanDeaver signed on and by the time it was passed had dozens of co-authors. Click here to see the amendment: 

Toward the end of the debate, Representative Springer introduced an amendment to revive ASATR, which was opposed by Huberty. Representative Jason Isaac amended Springer’s amendment with his test reduction bill, which has not yet had a hearing in committee. There was widespread support for Isaac’s amendment, so the motion to table it was overruled by 105-38, and the debate continued. After a tense and lengthy pause with members huddled by the podium, the chamber came back to life. Representative Springer tried to withdraw his amendment, but there was opposition to his doing so. Eventually the body voted to allow him to withdraw his amendment and the final bill vote was taken. 

What HB 21 does:
Commits an additional $1.8 billion (included in the House version of the budget as a contingency rider) beyond enrollment growth.
2. Increases the Basic Allotment from $5,140 to $5,350 per student, each year of the biennium by rolling several separate allotments into it:

a. Eliminates the Transportation Allotment but creates a new transportation funding of $125 per student (in ISDs and charters) and allows Ch. 41 districts to access transportation funding 
b. Rolls the High School Allotment into the Basic Allotment
c. Rolls funding for Additional State Aid for Non-Professional Staff into the Basic Allotment.

3. Lowers recapture at a rate of:
a. Approximately $173 million in 2018
b. Approximately $205 million in 2019

4. Creates a Hardship Provision Grant to provide assistance to districts suffering from loss of ASATR
5. Adds weight for students with Dyslexia of .1 for up to 5% of students in each district
6. Increases the Bilingual Allotment weight from .1 to .11
7. Expands CTE Allotment weight to include 8th grade and Technology Applications courses
8. Repeals 1993 Chapter 41 Hold Harmless 

HB 21 one pager: 

Which amendments were adopted? 
10 of the 46 proposed amendments were adopted.
1. Rep. John Raney’s amendment updates the basic allotment amount in statute from $4,765 to $5,140.
2. Rep. Mary Gonzales’s amendment updates and clarifies the hardship grant amount to $200 million for the biennium to match the language in the appropriations bill.
3. Rep. Diego Bernal’s amendment creates a $125 per-student penalty for districts that fail to meet state safety standards for school buses.
4. Rep. Ed Thompson’s amendment increases the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA) from $250 to $1000 per student in ISDs and charters, including repurposed and leased facilities. 
5. Rep. Drew Darby’s amendment eliminates the small school penalty. The basic allotment for districts with fewer than 1,600 students would be calculated the same regardless of whether the district covers fewer or greater than 300 square miles. $40 million from the hardship grant funds will be used to pay for this.
6. Rep. Stan Lambert’s amendment would require the commissioner of education to conduct a study of the cost, feasibility, and demand for summer CTE courses. (If funds are available) Rep. Cecil Bell amended the amendment to include studying extension of CTE courses below 8th grade and a TEA review of CTE and high school technology courses.
7. Rep. Poncho Nevarez’s amendment requires the commissioner of education to update the Cost of Education Index (CEI) during the 2016-17 school year. Rep. Huberty amended the amendment to eliminate the requirement that the updated CEI be used in the 2017-18 school year. 
8. Rep. Drew Springer’s amendment adjusts funding for specific districts bordering the Red River to make funding more equitable between competing districts. 
9. Rep. Ken King’s amendment prohibits special-purpose districts operated by general academic teaching institutions from charging tuition if they receive state funding.
10. Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s amendment requires TEA to submit projections for an equalized wealth level for each biennium. Rep. Huberty amended the amendment with specifics relating to what items must be included.

2. School Finance  Senate (SB 2145)
On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee heard a variety of school finance bills, including several from Chairman Larry Taylor. 
SB 2143 would raise the Basic Allotment in statute to the current level of $5,140 
SB 2142 would repeal the High School Allotment
SB 2144 would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system
SB 2145 would completely overhaul the school finance system

Chairman Taylor’s SB 2145 got a glowing review from a wide variety of witnesses. This system is essentially what was proposed by the Equity Center. The witnesses supported the simplicity and equity of the system but expressed some concerns including the need to update the weights, and the rolling in of Gifted and Talented funding. As Senator Taylor had promised, the bill creates a simplified structure for school finance that anyone can understand. He explained that the bill does not depend on any certain amount of funding, and would work at any level. (Of course, it would work better for all districts if there were MORE money!) The bill leaves the Basic Allotment level blank and would allow the legislature to determine the appropriated amount. 

Some key elements of the system include:
1. Restructures current Chapters 41 and 42 to pull them all into Chapter 42. 
2. Does not change weights for Comp. Ed, Bilingual, Special Ed, etc. at this time.
3. All districts are guaranteed access to the funding generated by the sum of five cost-based instructional funding allotments, plus transportation. (Regular program, special education, career and technology, compensatory education, and bilingual education.)
4. Eliminates both the penalty on districts under 300 square miles and the 50% Tier 2 reduction for the CEI index.
5. Each district is guaranteed an amount equal to the sum of its regular program allotment, and the four special instructional allotments listed in item 3. That is multiplied by the district’s M&O tax rate. That amount added to transportation funding equals the amount of money a district would be allotted. 
6. All pennies are funded at the same level per student.
7. If a district does not receive enough money from its “available school fund” distribution and local M&O tax collections to cover its funding amount, it receives state aid to make up the difference. If the amount exceeds what is needed to cover funding, the State collects the excess to increase the basic allotment, and elevates the system for all students and taxpayers.

To better understand the bill, please take the 10 minutes to watch this helpful video prepared by the Equity Center. 

3. Budget
While we are talking about money, let’s talk about where the state budget is right now. The Senate and House are about 400,000 dollars apart in their budgets, and they fund them in different ways. The House budget uses $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and the Senate budget uses an accounting trick to postpone a voter-approved $2.5 billion payment allocated for transportation. Both houses fund enrollment growth, but the Senate budget does not provide any additional school finance funds while the House appropriates an additional $1.8 billion above enrollment growth. The Senate, as expected, did not accept the House version of SB 1 and the Lieutenant Governor has appointed his team to the conference committee that will work on a compromise. Senators Nelson, Hinojosa, Huffman, Kolkhorst, and Schwertner will be on the SB 1 Conference Committee. Last night, the Speaker named his appointments to the SB 1 Conference Committee: Representatives John Zerwas, Oscar Longoria, Sarah Davis, Trent Ashby, and Larry Gonzales. Now the conferees can start hammering out a budget that will be acceptable to both chambers.

Next week should be exciting too. The House Public Education Committee has posted a notice for its Tuesday meeting at which they will be hearing another 30 bills. Among those on the agenda are a committee substitute for Representative VanDeaver's HB 515 (which reduces standardized testing) and Representative Isaac's HB 1333 (also reducing testing and addressing accountability). Based on the hearty support from members when Rep. Isaac tried to amend HB 21 with HB 1333, we are hopeful that there is an appetite in the House to reduce high stakes standardized testing further. Senate Ed may also hear some testing and accountability bills next week. We expect HB 22 (revising A-F) to be heard on the House floor next week! As always, we will keep you posted on what transpires and how you can make your voices heard at pivotal moments in the process.

Many thanks,

Laura Yeager 
TACS Governmental Relations


Past Legislative Updates

April 21st
April 13th
April 7th
March 31st
March 9th
March 3rd
February 24th
February 17th
February 10th
February 3rd
January 27th 
January 19th
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June 4th

June 3rd (wrap-up)

May 29th

May 22nd
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May 1st

April 24th
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April 10th

April 2nd

March 27th

Contact Information

Texas Association of Community Schools
1011 San Jacinto Blvd., Ste. 204
Austin, Texas 78701-2431
Phone: (512) 440-8227
Fax: (512) 442-6705